Then Alberta premier Jason Kenney touts Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. at the “Alberta Energy War Room’s” opening news conference on Dec. 11, 2019. Sonya Savage, the energy minister at the time, and CEC Ltd. CEO Tom Olsen flank the premier. The visible logo on the podium soon had to be dumped, as it belonged to another company (Photo: Screenshot of event video).

The Alberta Energy War Room is kaput. Supposedly, it’s about to be folded into a government department. 

NDP leadership candidate Kathleen Ganley released the news before the government could put its spin on the decision (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So, did the government of Alberta conclude it really is safer to publish stories and studies intended to greenwash the fossil fuel industry as government press releases instead of through a government funded “private” company that might fall under the ambit of a new federal truth-in-advertising law?

After all, it was less than a week ago we observed in this space how the so-called Energy War Room set up by premier Jason Kenney soon after the United Conservative Party’s election in 2019 posed a risk to its three directors – all UCP cabinet ministers – if Bill C-59’s amendment to the federal Competition Act became law.

As Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz, one of the three directors along with Energy Minister Brian Jean and Justice Minister Mickey Amery, fussed in an overwrought statement about the federal bill, “activists will be able to bring claims against oil and gas companies under so called ‘anti-greenwashing provisions.’”

Whatever the actual reason, this afternoon Premier Danielle Smith’s UCP government pulled the plug on what was among Mr. Kenney’s dumbest ideas, which has been a continuing embarrassment almost since the day it opened for business as a too-clever-by-half dodge to prevent Freedom of Information searches about what the company, officially known as Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., was getting up to. 

Mr. Jean’s office released a statement to media saying that “after careful consideration, we will be integrating the mandate of the CEC into Intergovernmental Relations.”

Energy Minister Brian Jean made the rushed official announcement this afternoon (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“Resources such as CEC assets, intellectual property, and researchers will now be supporting IGR in order to seamlessly continue this important work,” it continued. 

This seems unlikely, however. While the CEC website continues online for the moment, its staff members are understood to have been laid off. What will happen to CEO Tom Olsen remains to be seen. 

Interestingly, the minister’s statement was released only after Kathleen Ganley, one of the candidates to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the Opposition NDP, got the scoop and broke the story before the government could. 

“The War Room was symbolic of the UCP’s leadership,” Ms. Ganley said in a statement emailed to media just before 4 p.m. “It existed only to signal the UCP’s disdain for our fellow Canadians and waste money, and it was intentionally designed to avoid even a hint of transparency.”

“I am thrilled to see this pointless waste of money finally ended — I hope the UCP will use the funding to do something to actually help the people of this province.” Good luck with that, of course. 

Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. CEO Tom Olsen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The statement from Mr. Jean’s office also claimed, falsely, that “In a time when the federal government is attempting to make the promotion of Alberta’s energy industry illegal, and passing policy that will cripple Canada’s largest industry employing hundreds of thousands of Canadians by implementing an emissions cap, it is more important than ever that Alberta has a strong advocate.”

The War Room was never a strong advocate, however. Mainly, it came to be an international joke. In its early days, it twice managed to purloin copyrighted logos from other companies, and later famously launched a campaign against a cartoon movie called Bigfoot Family to worldwide hilarity. Such gaffes distracted from its effort to appear to be a credible advocate for expanded fossil fuel use. 

In response to a news feature on international lenders’ growing discomfort funding oilsands projects in northern Alberta, the War Room took to social media to accuse The New York Times of antisemitism and having a dodgy track record. Mr. Olsen apologized and the 20-part thread soon disappeared from the social media service previously known as Twitter. 

Now that what’s left of the War Room has been rolled into Alberta’s Intergovernmental Relations department, the government can expect to be deluged with FOIPs about the War Room’s activities. How it tries to avoid reporting will be interesting to observe. 

The Opposition Energy Critic, Nagwan Al-Guneid, said the NDP will ask the Auditor-General to investigate the consolidation “so Albertans can truly have an understanding of how much of their tax dollars will be on the line.”

The War Room, said Ms. Al-Guneid, “has not improved Alberta’s energy sector in any measurable way.”

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39 Comments

  1. While Smith and crew have plenty of bad ideas of their own, in this case it seems they were not wedded to someone else’s bad idea. It probably didn’t help that the war room didn’t have a stellar track record, but instead a string of embarrassments.

    Perhaps the first problem was hiring someone to run it who had more success in a band than in electoral politics. It often seemed tone deaf in its responses. A second problem was Kenney’s too clever set up of it to avoid scrutiny. If you are going to try avoid accountability it is probably smart not to be so obvious about it.

    I don’t know if what finally killed it was the UCP’s fear over how the Feds might apply new laws on energy advertising. While these fears seem overwrought, going after a provincial cabinet minister might be more tempting than going after some energy company executive.

    Even if the Smith gang didn’t really believe this, I suppose it makes for a good cover story and gives them a plausible reason to get rid of this embarrassing remnant of the previous UCP regime.

  2. The War Room is gone? I don’t believe a word of it.

    The CEC (War Room) serves as a slush fund that no one is allowed to ask questions about. As a result, it’s very useful for all kinds of purposes, and it has been used a lot since Queen Danielle ascended to power. I have a suspicion that the two debacles that are known as the Tuck Carlson Fests were financial debacles. I mean when they have to had out thousands of free tickets because the producers (TBA, Jordan Peterson, and Danielle Smith) are about to look stupid, someone had to pay for Carlson’s exorbitant fees. The best part was that Carlson skipped out on his steak dinner in Edmonton, because there was an argument over how he was going to pay him. Rather than endure the embarrassing lawsuit from Carlson’s representatives, Smith stepped up and cracked open the CEC piggy bank to make the problem go away.

    Now that the UCP’s promised tax cut has died the death (among many other promises that their 2023 election platform wrought) every single leak in Alberta’s ship of state has to be plugged, and the most glaring was the CEC’s $30M slush fund. Of course, being the cynic that I am, there’s no way the CEC is going to go away. Folding into another government agency, and giving it a new name and mandate, is the next best way to keep the whole shiteshow going.

    Now, I’m wondering how stable the funding for that NHL-style community hockey rink in Calgary is right now?

  3. To put the matter into perspective, Premier Kenny’s War Room announcement came two months after famed global warming activist Greta Thunberg visited Edmonton, marching down Jasper Avenue with thousands of supporters to the Legislature where she warned the Arctic ice shelves were going to melt by 2023 -touting the claims of some American scientist.

    Well it’s the spring of 2024 and the Arctic ice shelves are still here and the capital region is shivering through a wet cooler than average spring. Rumour has it the fireplaces in the Intergovernmental Relations department are going full blast and the cry “put another log in the fire Martha” can be heard all day in the secretarial pool.

    1. Thunberg said that in 2019, did she? That the Arctic ice shelves would be gone by 2023? And she was citing a scientist?
      Could you give us citations for all this?

        1. Thank you for making this effort, David. I looked at contemporary reports of Thunberg’s Edmonton address in 2019, and couldn’t find any reference to “Arctic ice shelves” (ice shelves are more an Antarctic phenomenon anyway) disappearing by 2023, at the behest of an American scientist or otherwise.
          Another example of misinformation having the half-life of plutonium.

        2. It is absolutely true and well documented that the Arctic Ocean floating ice cap is gradually shrinking — to the point that it has become a national defence and security matter, as well as endangering the habitat of polar bears, who live on the ice. Is it all gone? No, not yet, but it will be, possibly within our children’s lifetimes.

          So, while Ms Thunberg was a bit alarmist in terms of how fast this is happening, she was bang on about the fact that it is happening.

    2. I don’t recall Ms Thunberg saying the sea ice was going to melt in 2023, but I was honoured to join her march to the legislature in hopes that something would turn the tide against this suicidal madness our civilization seems locked into. Regardless, the incorrect prediction of one scientist, or a committed activist, or a cold start to the summer, none of this contradicts the physics of global warming. The presence or absence of an infinite number of war rooms will not change that physics either. If you genuinely want to know – here is probably the most accurate picture of where global sea ice is at; the trend is not pretty: https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

      1. Friend: A serious heat dome is forecast to scorch most of North America, especially the eastern half of the continent, next week. However, if you look at the map under the heading “No end in sight” in this Washington Post story – https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2024/06/12/heat-wave-dome-midwest-mid-atlantic-south/ – you will see that the coldest area on the continent is predicted to be in Western Canada and close to, just west of, the Edmonton area. I predict that certain of our fair city’s most annoying social media climate change deniers will be busy tweeting that the cool weather means global warming is a fraud, merely a sinister plot to keep us all locked in out 15-minute cities. DJC

        1. I suppose it’s a requirement for membership in their deniers club, but people need to drop the term “global warming” and use the term “climate extremes” evidenced by such things as the heat dome, the flooding of the Sumas Valley and 2013 Calgary flood. I won’t hold my breath for the torch and pitchfork crowd updating that file, when most still live in the 1950’s.

    3. I guess she should have gone with Canada experiences a record number of forest fires, literally millions of hectares burnt and Canadians told to shelter inside to avoid the hazards associated with the smoke. Best Summer Ever! Gee, I feel so much better now that you pointed out the ice shelfs are still hanging in there.

    4. “Cooler than average” you mean like there’s been a change in the climate ?

      Huh. Funny how when you phrase it that way it’s obvious that you’re not being serious. I’m guessing you don’t even know that the folks quoting the tweet know they’re completely misrepresenting what she actually said , which itself was a quote that oversimplified the thrust of what the original researcher was driving at, which is not that human society will end in 2023, but that we have precious little time left (if any at this point) to stave off a climate collapse that will absolutely alter life for every single living being on this planet.

      I can’t tell if you’re ignorant or stupid but suffice to say the readers of this blog are not that gullible my dude. I’ve breathed in far too much wildfire smoke in the last five years to listen to any loser who wants to pretend climate change isn’t real, and happening right now.

  4. Another colossal Alberta conservative waste of money. Alberta voters are proud of never learning a thing.

  5. Of course the question remains, why is the government using taxpayer dollars for something that industry should be paying for? This is especially true for a government that claims to be fiscally conservative, if not by action then by ideology. Of course, we here all know the answer: claims of small government libertarianism and fiscal conservatism have always been nonsense, a convenient smokescreen to enrich vested interests and impoverish the undeserving and hamstring political opponents.

    1. “The government using taxpayer dollars for something that industry should be paying for” is the principle behind Smith’s RStar initiative. Which hasn’t been taken off the table, by the way, although the UCP has been quiet about it since the last election.

    2. I was raised to believe we couldn’t have nice things because the Free Market and Russians. Turned out it was really all about keeping Whitey on top and making the rich richer. Go figure.

  6. Thanks for writing another interesting column, David. When I read the CBC story last night I did have the thought that closing the CEC was very out of character for our O & G lobbying premier, so there must be a reason for the closure other than it is the smart thing to do.

    If your theory is correct, I am wondering who, if anyone, would be held to account for greenwashing mistruths coming from the intergovernmental relations office, when they take over the former CEC’s duties. My guess is it would be no one, since a corporation is no longer involved.

    1. I think it is in character for D. Smith since she poses as the warrior fighting Ottawa to defend oil – she does not want anyone else to share the credit which is so politically useful for her. Also she doesn’t need help producing BS.

  7. As the UCP has demonstrated time and again that they are bereft of any original ideas, I was expecting to see a purloined sunglass wearing pink bunny banging a drum as the CEC mascot. Who knew that it would only be the executive and directors on the public dime (step right up Mr. Olsen and Mr. Jean) who would keep going and going and going and going and going…………..

  8. It’s always a good day that starts with some “smithenfreude”.
    Out of curiosity, who in the federal government proposed the amendment to C-59?

  9. Since when is it the job of government and its arm’s-length agencies to tell blatant, unfettered lies on behalf of industry, unless this is a corporatocracy, à la Benito Mussolini?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism#:~:text=Corporatism%20became%20one%20of%20the,neo%2Dcorporatism%20often%20embraced%20tripartism.

    Whatever will the hacks of the War Room do with their severance cheques, now that the gravy train has derailed? Will Tom Olsen be recycled into the premier’s office as Alberta’s answer to Heather Locklear in Spin City?

    Poor Jason Kenney. He’ll have to console himself with the remnants of his legacy by visiting the Winston Churchill statue at McDougall Centre. Quickly now, before the centre is renamed and the statue removed due to racism falling out of fashion in the 21st century. Why doesn’t the government website list its namesake? Oh well, found it.

    https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=9203&pid=0

    1. Danielle Smith is Kenney’s legacy to us. We should never forget that, and he should never be allowed to.

  10. I never thought I’d say this. Danielle Smith may not be totally wrong about everything.

    This is the second time to my knowledge that she’s done something halfway useful. The first was the review of Alberta’s electricity regulations, and the quasi-promise to ban—what was it? “Financial withholding” of power generation, I think. AKA shutting down a generating plant to spike the spot price of electricity. Danielle’s gonna save us from high electricity bills by deleting the rule that says withholding generating capacity is OK. Something like that. (The jury’s still out on the auto insurance review.)

    Still…I’m not holding my breath over the chance the war room will quietly fade into oblivion. Danielle has given herself a priceless gift: she now has her very own propaganda mill! It’s under her personal thumb as part of Intergovernmental Relations. Rob Anderson must be salivating.

    I wonder who the three former-CEC employees are, who’ve been transferred” to IGR. Has Tom Olson been demoted from CEO to team lead? If so, will he stick around? Does the new team get to keep its $30 million budget—or was it cut to $12 million during Covid? Or $6 million, since there’s half as many staff.

    Will the former war room staffers now declare war on Justin Trudeau, on behalf of Danielle Smith? Where’s the fun of having a low-level bureaucrat sending out press releases, when Danielle enjoys slagging off Justin in person, live on TV?

    The sheer volume of activity out of the Smith/UCP/TBA government has been at times impressive; but usually, it’s appalling. Smith seems much more energetic that Jason Kenney was. (Maybe I’m wrong; maybe Smith just generates more headlines). I’m reminded of a study by the US Army in about 1947; they wanted to know what qualities marked the most successful generals. (NOTE: the classification was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and the men being assessed knew it. You DON’T get command of tens of thousands of men, and billions of dollars’ worth of equipment, if you have trouble tying your shoes and waving bye-byes.) The four classes were:
    1. Smart and energetic
    2. Smart and lazy
    3. Stupid and lazy
    4. Stupid and energetic.

    I think we can see which class Danielle Smith belongs in.

    1. Mike: I am skeptical of the U.S. Army survey story if only because it is also told about Napoleon: “Smart and energetic I make field commanders; smart and lazy I make generals; stupid and lazy, I make foot soldiers.” And stupid and energetic? “Ah, those ones. Those ones I shoot.” DJC

      1. During WW2, it was said that Gen. Von Rundstedt had a similar grading of generals.

        Stupid and lazy made ideal staff adjutants. Better to leave them at HQ where they can do no harm.

        Stupid and lazy are useful as bureaucrats and war ministry functionaries. Or…politicians.

        Stupid and energetic are best left to work for the politicians.

        Smart and energetic were the ones that do all the work…for all the above.

    2. Mike J Danysh: It is economic witholding. That’s what made power prices in Alberta spike so much.

  11. It was a joke from day 1.

    Just something to placate some of UCP members and potential UCP members.

    What they did not know was that it was an inside joke ifUCP’ers who knew the reality and were quite surprised how the ‘great unwashed’ lapped up the nonsense that was spewed as gospel according to the UCP. Even they were surprised at how well the con worked with some voters.

    Go figure. Guess that is why we have a UCP Government today that is doing it’s utmost to move attention from health care and education to anything else that moves. Including it would seem, going so far as to comment on the current US political situation and upcoming election.

    Makes my head spin.

  12. Well well. The Nigel Farage of Canadian politics rears his rear once again! For you.. only you.. Jason! https://youtu.be/zFbQMPqnlfw?t=1 You may have a future in politics! I mean someone needs you. You did save the loony right wing from oblivion after all! Right?

  13. Using taxpayers money for government to openly lobby for oh and gee or any industry should be unconstitutional if it isn’t.
    Poor oh and gee, they need mommy Smith to do their job for them because they’re so broke. Right.
    Smith wants her old job back. She never got off that hobby horse,
    any more than she’s governed and delivered programs for Albertans.

  14. About 50 years ago I told a lawyer that I thought most lawyers were nothing but trained liars and much to my amazement he agreed with me. He stated “the worse ones are the ones who become politicians. They can’t make it as a lawyer so they become politicians. Lougheed was an exception I certainly trusted him.” I wonder what he thought about Notley I certainly trusted her. Yet Brian Jean has been spreading lies from day one and you can’t believe anything he says.

    1. Alan K Spiller—
      -Michael Cohen
      -Rudy Guiliani
      -Sidney Powell etc. etc.
      “All of Trump’s lawyers* who have faced consequences”
      https//www.forbes.com >sites >k
      2 more as of June 4th.

      Given the UCP/ CON penchant for following the neighbors lead….. ends up speaking for itself, imo.

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